Vacant Homes: 8 Ways to Make Sure They’re Maintained

Living near a vacant home doesn’t have to mean putting up with overgrown grass and unshoveled snow. Does your community use these eight common local laws, programs, and regulations to force owners to maintain vacant homes?

If left untended, vacant houses can fall into desrepair and lower the value of nearby homes. Image: USDOJ Office of Justice Programs/NIJ/2009 Foreclosure and Crime Meeting

With the foreclosure crisis, you may have noticed a vacant home or two on your block. Rather than see the home free-fall into disrepair, push local officials to take action before the untended house lowers the value of your own home.

Here’s a list of common vacant-home laws, rules, and programs. Call your local elected official’s office to find out what your community has in place and how you can get those laws enforced:

  • Special assessments charged to owners of vacant homes to cover the cost of added police and fire protection.
  • Mandatory fire, safety, or code inspections of vacant homes.
  • Laws forcing a foreclosing lender to maintain vacant homes during the foreclosure process—especially important in states where foreclosure takes a year or more.
  • Rules that let your local government make repairs to vacant homes and charge the owner for the work.
  • Programs that transfer vacant homes to community development corporations, housing nonprofits, or government housing agencies.
  • Property codes that make owners of vacant homes secure their properties and add exterior lights.